Sophos launches free Mac anti-virus for home users
Well, I didn’t see that coming!
For the last year I have been feeling increasingly exposed on my iMac. You see, Mac malware is like Predator: you know it’s there even though you can’t quite see it; you know that sooner or later it will be coming for you; and you know that without decent anti-Predator software, when it does come for you, it’s gonna get you.
The problem is that there is precious little mainstream free security available for the Mac OS. OK, we’ve had ClamAV for some time, and I don’t want to denigrate it – but it’s not really suitable for the average home user. You don’t need a degree in nuclear physics to operate ClamAV; but unless you are a fully qualified MacGeek, it will probably help. Other than that, free Mac security is pretty well non-existent.
However, nature abhors a vacuum. So something is bound to come along sooner or later. And for the last few months I have been quietly confident that it would be from Panda Security. Panda has a free cloud-based Windows AV product (discussed here). I expected that Panda would develop a Mac version of its free Windows cloud anti-virus and be the first mainstream free Mac anti-virus. And this view was merely confirmed when Panda announced a new commercial Mac anti-virus just a couple of days ago.
But Sophos has trumped us all – and I really didn’t see that coming. Yesterday, Sophos announced “the availability of a free Mac anti-virus product for consumers, available to download at no charge, with no time limit, and requiring no registration. Sophos Anti-Virus Home Edition for Mac is available free to Mac home users worldwide…”
The reason I didn’t see it is because Sophos doesn’t do anti-virus for home users – it only has business customers. OK, 100 million of them, but still only businees customers. I asked Graham Cluley why he had upset my predictions; why, when you have always been a business AV vendor?
“Well, that’s right – we have been,” he said, “and I think we still are. Unlike a lot of the free anti-virus products that are out there, we’re not doing this as part of a scheme to upgrade users to a professional version. So there won’t be any nagging popups or anything like that, telling you, ‘oh, you should really get the version that updates even more frequently, or has this feature and that feature…’ That’s simply not why we’re doing it.”
OK. So why are you doing it?
“We think we can do this without messing up our current business model which is to deal with businesses – B2B. Of course, we’re not doing it completely altruistically: the benefit as we see it is – it gets our name out there a bit more. As a B2B company we’ve always had problems in terms of raising awareness about us amongst the general public; and we thought, hey, here’s an opportunity… No-one else seems to be doing this; the problem is getting worse; and its no skin off our nose really to give this bit of software away…”
So it’s not altruism. It’s actually just a very large and very expensive PR exercise; the most sophisticated press release I’ve seen in a long time. And I absolutely welcome it, and thank Sophos for it. It might be just what is needed to force the issue and get some more free security software into the Mac world.